Watch-out for T20 World Champions Sri Lanka. They might have more than a fair share of ageing veterans in the team but they are none the worse for it as they proved in the Asia Cup T20 league encounter against minnows UAE on Thursday night.
The veteran bowlers, in fact, were the toast of the evening as they efficiently defended a small target despite the commendable efforts of UAE’s former Mumbai junior batsman Swapnil Patil (37 from 36 balls). The mix and efficiency displayed by the old warhorses also proved they are an extremely potent force in this format of the game.
The spearhead, of course, was Lasith Malinga. The ‘Slinga’ had not bowled a ball since November as a bad knee kept him out of the game. His entire bowling practice was spread over the past two days. Nobody could have guessed that though considering the skilful manner in which he despatched four key UAE batsmen.
His two spells had all the markings of the seasoned old professional that he is. The four overs no doubt would help him whip up the competitive juices and bring him some sort of a rhythm in the run-up to sterner games against the big guns of T20 cricket, India and Pakistan.
Malinga’s two wickets in the first spell grabbed the UAE batting line-up by their throat. Later, just when they seemed to be wriggling out of the stranglehold he packed off the last threat, Patil, with a deceptive slower one.
His haul of 4-26 puts him in the right frame of mind for the bigger battles in the coming days. The challenge though would be for the speedster to keep himself fit over the next week or so.
On the best of days, Malinga’s slinging action is a nightmare to batsmen in T20 cricket. His unusual action where the release of the ball does not come from an overhead arc but from the side is a disconcerting aspect for batsmen.
Then there is his scorching pace. He also has a deceptive bag of deliveries which includes yorkers, bouncers and slower ones that bewilders batsmen. But since Malinga is a rhythm bowler he needs everything to fall in place together.
A skilful, experienced batsman may be able to sort him out. But what chance did a team of inexperienced batters have against this lethal strike bowler? UAE batsmen allowed him to not just slip into a comfortable tempo but also get increasingly confident of doing what he does best –browbeat them.
It seems logical, therefore, that rival batsmen would target the other bowlers in Sri Lanka’s armoury.
But there is a problem. And the name of the problem (for rivals) in Rangana Herath. Another veteran, Herath too had been out of international T20 cricket for quite a while but got into his groove early in the tournament. The stocky left-arm spinner who has a low ball-release bowled with all the control and confidence of yore.
The third warhorse, Ruwan Kulashekara, moved the new ball just enough to ask questions of batsmen. He is not anywhere near the class of Malinga but is nevertheless a very handy medium pacer. He has the experience to keep the batsmen guessing with subtle variations.
Lanka’s other fast bowler, young Dushantha Chameera, is quick and could be a threat on helpful tracks.
The champions’ Achilles heel, though, is the batting. Their best batsman Dinesh Chandimal saved them from ignominy with a brilliant 50 in a low total of 129 for 8. Although he struck a decent opening partnership with Tillekaretna Dilshan, the latter never looked comfortable.
Dilshan in the past was a destroyer of fast bowling. He would come up with fearless, innovative strokes. But against the UAE on Thursday he struggled to scratch up 27 runs in the partnership of 68. If Angelo Mathews, he and the others do not quickly work up a worthwhile support to Chandimal the world champions will be in deep trouble.
The biggest talking point in the match against the UAE was not Lanka’s varied bowling or indifferent batting but the unusual bounce in Mirpur pitches.
It is difficult to understand why such pitches are being laid out for T20 matches where the thrill for spectators is in seeing batsmen pile up runs, not struggle for survival.
If the extra bounce and green top pitches were part of hosts’ to ambush stronger sides, it may not work out to plan.
On such pitches most medium pacers would be a threat and hence the matches could be decided by the team that bats sensibly. And stronger sides will inevitably have better firepower in batting.
The Asia Cup was supposed to be an appetiser for the WorldT20 event starting in India next month. But the pitches laid out for the event defeat that purpose.